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Saint Francis Xavier, born Francisco de Jaso y Azpilicueta (7 April 1506, Javier, Navarremarker – 3 December 1552, Shangchuan Islandmarker, Chinamarker) was a Spanishmarker pioneering Roman Catholic missionary of Navarrese origin and co-founder of the Society of Jesus. He was a student of Saint Ignatius Loyola and one of the first seven Jesuits who dedicated themselves to the service of God at Montmartemarker in 1534. He led an extensive mission into Asia, mainly in the Asian Portuguese empire of the time. He was influential in the spreading and upkeep of Catholicism most notably in India (in Goa), but also ventured into Japan, Borneo, the Malaccas, and other areas which had thus far not been colonized. In these areas, being a pioneer and struggling to learn the local language of the indigenous people in the face of opposition, he had less success.

Early life

The castle of the Xavier family was later acquired by the Company of Jesus and reconstructed.
Francis Xavier was born in the family castle of Xaviermarker (Xabier, in Basque) in the Kingdom of Navarre on 7 April 1506 according to a family register. He was born to an aristocratic family of Navarre, the youngest son of Juan de Jaso, privy counselor to King John III of Navarre (Jean d'Albret), and Doña Maria de Azpilcueta y Xavier, sole heiress of two noble Navarrese families. He was thus related to the great theologian and philosopher Martín de Azpilcueta. Following the Basque surname custom of the time, he was named after his mother ; his name is accurately written Francisco de Xavier (Latin Xaverius) rather than Francisco Xavier, as Xavier is originally a place name. Basque François Xavier naquit au sud de cette démarcation à la limite de l'Aragon (1506) et vécut dans son château natal de Xavier jusqu'à l'âge de 19 ans. C'est là qu'il apprit ses deux premières langues: d'une part le basque dans sa famille bascophone (de la région du Baztan et de la Basse-Navarre) et avec ceux qui arrivaient des provinces voisines encore bascophones au château et d'autre part la langue romane de son entourage géographique immédiat. Ce qui explique pourquoi le missionraire navarrais désignera l'euskara comme "sa langue naturelle bizcayenne" (1544), terme très étendu à cette époque. and Romance were his two mother tongues.

Joint Castilian and Aragonesemarker troops commanded by Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo, second Duke of Alba conquered the Kingdom of Navarre in 1512. After a failed French-Navarrese attempt to reconquer the kingdom in (1516), in which Saint Francis's brothers had taken part, the outer wall, the gates and two towers of the family castle were demolished, the moat was filled, the height of the keep was reduced in half, and land was confiscated. Only the family residence inside the castle was left. Francis's father died when he was only nine years old in 1515.

Xavier met Ignatius of Loyola while they were both students at the University of Parismarker. While at the time he seemed destined for academic success in the line of his noble family, Ignatius reputedly turned his sights to a life a Catholic missionary service. He later joined Ignatius, together with 5 others, in founding the Society of Jesus. On the 15 August 1534, in a small chapel in Montmartremarker, they made a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, and also vowed to convert the Muslims in the Middle East (or, failing this, carry out the wishes of the Pope). Francis Xavier went, with the rest of the members of the newly papal-approved Jesuit order, to Venice, Italy, to be ordained to the priesthood, which took place on 24 June 1537. Towards the end of October, the seven companions reached Bologna, where they worked in the local hospital. After that, he served for a brief period in Rome as Ignatius' secretary.

Missionary work

Francis Xavier devoted much of his life to missions in foreign countries. As King John III of Portugal desired Jesuit missionaries for the Portuguese East Indies, he was ordered there in 1540 by Ignatius on behalf of the King. The King believed that Christian values were eroding among the colonists of Goa. He left Lisbonmarker on 7 April 1541 together with two other Jesuits and the new viceroy Martim Afonso de Sousa, on board the Santiago. From August of that year until March 1542, he remained in Mozambiquemarker then reached Goamarker, the capital of the then Portuguesemarker Indian colonies on 6 May 1542. His official role there was Apostolic Nuncio and he spent the following three years operating out of Goa.

On 20 September 1543 he left for his first missionary activity among the Paravas, pearl-fishers along the east coast of southern India, North of Cape Comorinmarker (or ). He lived in a sea cave in Manapadmarker, intensively catechizing Paravar children for three months in 1544. He then focused on converting the king of Travancore to Christianity and also visited Ceylonmarker (Sri Lankamarker). Dissatisfied with the results of his activity, he set his sights eastward in 1545 and planned a missionary journey to Makassarmarker on the island of Celebesmarker (today's Indonesiamarker).

As the first Jesuit in India, Francis had difficult procuring success for his missionary trips. Francis had a lack of respect for Hinduism . Instead of approaching Christianity through the traditions of the local religion and creating a nativised church as the Jesuit Matteo Ricci did in China, he was eager for change . His successors such as de Nobili, Ricci, and Beschi attempted to convert the noblemen first as a means to influence more people, while Francis had initially interacted most with the lower classes (later though, in Japan, Francis changed tact by paying tribute to the Emperor and seeking an audience with him). However Francis' mission was primarily, as ordered by King John III, to restore Christianity among the Portuguese settlers. Many of the Portuguese sailors had had illegitimate relationships with Indian women; Francis struggled to restore moral relations, and catechized many illegitimate children.

After arriving in Portuguese Malaccamarker in October of that year and waiting three months in vain for a ship to Macassar, he gave up the goal of his voyage and left Malacca on 1 January 1546 for Ambon Islandmarker where he stayed until mid-June. He then visited other Maluku Islandsmarker including Ternatemarker and More. Shortly after Easter 1546, he returned to Ambon Island and later Malacca. During this time, frustrated by the elites in Goa, Francis wrote to King John III of Portugal for an Inquisition to be installed in Goa. However he never saw the Inquisition; it began eight years after his death. The Inquisition has since been criticized as being repressive .

Voyages of St. Francis Xavier

Francis Xavier's work initiated permanent change in eastern Indonesiamarker, and he was known as the 'Apostle of the Indies' where in 1546-1547 he worked in the Malukumarker Islands among the people of Ambonmarker, Ternatemarker, and Morotaimarker (or Moro), and laid the foundations for a permanent mission.After he left the Maluku Islands, others carried on his work and by the 1560s there were 10,000 Catholics in the area, mostly on Ambon. By the 1590s there were 50,000 to 60,000.

In Malacca in December 1547 Francis Xavier met a Japanesemarker from Kagoshima named Anjiro. Anjiro had heard from Francis in 1545 and had travelled from Kagoshima to Malacca with the purpose of meeting with him. Having been charged with murder, Anjiro had fled Japan. He told Francis extensively about his former life and the customs and culture of his beloved homeland. Anjiro helped Xavier as a mediator and translator for the mission to Japan that now seemed much more possible. "I asked [Anjiro] whether the Japanese would become Christians if I went with him to this country, and he replied that they would not do so immediately, but would first ask me many questions and see what I knew. Above all, they would want to see whether my life corresponded with my teaching."

He returned to India in January 1548. The next 15 months were occupied with various journeys and administrative measures in India. Then, due to displeasure at what he considered un-Christian life and manners on the part of the Portuguese which impeded missionary work, he travelled from the South into East Asia. He left Goa on 15 April 1549, stopped at Malacca and visited Cantonmarker. He was accompanied by Anjiro, two other Japanese men, the father Cosme de Torrès and Brother João Fernandes. He had taken with him presents for the "King of Japan" since he was intending to introduce himself as the Apostolic Nuncio.

Francis Xavier reached Japan on 27 July 1549 with Anjiro and three other Jesuits, but it was not until 15 August that he went ashore at Kagoshima, the principal port of the province of Satsuma on the island of Kyūshūmarker. As a representative of the Portunguese king, he was received in a friendly manner. hosted by Anjiro's family until October 1550. From October to December 1550, he resided in Yamaguchi. Shortly before Christmas, he left for Kyoto but failed to meet with the Emperor. He returned to Yamaguchi in March 1551 where he was permitted to preach by the daimyo of the province. However, lacking fluency in the Japanese language, he had to limit himself to reading aloud the translation of a catechism.

Francis was the first Jesuit to go to Japan as a missionary. He brought with him paintings of the Madonna and the Madonna and Child. These paintings were used to help teach the Japanese about Christianity. There was a huge language barrier as Japanese was unlike other languages the missionaries had previously encountered. For a long time Francis struggled to learn the language. Artwork continued to play a role in Francis’s teachings in Asia.

For forty five years the Jesuits were the only missionaries in Asia, but the Franciscans also began proselytizing in Asia as well. Christian missionaries were later forced into exile, along with their assistants. Some were able to stay behind, however Christianity was then kept underground as to not be persecuted.

The Japanese people were not easily converted; many of the people were already Buddhist or Shinto. Francis tried to combat the disposition of some of the Japanese that a God who had created everything, including evil, could not be good. The concept of Hell was also a struggle; the Japanese were bothered by the idea of their ancestors living in Hell. Despite Francis’ different religion, he felt that they were good people, much like Europeans, and could be converted.

Xavier was welcomed by the Shingon monks since he used the word Dainichi for the Christian God; attempting to adapt the concept to local traditions. As Xavier learned more about the religious nuances of the word, he changed to Deusu from the Latin and Portuguese Deus. The monks later realized that Xavier was preaching a rival religion and grew more aggressive towards his attempts at conversion.

With the passage of time, his sojourn in Japan could be considered somewhat fruitful as attested by congregations established in Hirado, Yamaguchi and Bungo. Xavier worked for more than two years in Japan and saw his successor-Jesuits established. He then decided to return to India. During his trip, a tempest forced him to stop on an island near Guangzhoumarker, Chinamarker where he saw the rich merchant Diego Pereira, an old friend from Cochinmarker, who showed him a letter from Portuguese being held prisoners in Guangzhou asking for a Portuguese ambassador to talk to the Chinese Emperor in their favor. Later during the voyage, he stopped at Malacca on 27 December 1551 and was back in Goa by January 1552.

On 17 April he set sail with Diego Pereira, leaving Goa on board the Santa Cruz for China. He introduced himself as Apostolic Nuncio and Pereira as ambassador of the King of Portugal. Shortly thereafter, he realized that he had forgotten his testimonial letters as an Apostolic Nuncio. Back in Malacca, he was confronted by the capitão who now had total control over the harbor. The capitão refused to recognize his title of Nuncio, asked Pereira to resign from his title of ambassador, named a new crew for the ship and demanded the gifts for the Chinese Emperor be left in Malacca.

In late August 1552 the Santa Cruz reached the Chinese island of Shangchuanmarker, 14 km away from the southern coast of mainland China, near Taishanmarker, Guangdongmarker, 200 km south-west of what later became Hong Kongmarker. At this time, he was only accompanied by a Jesuit student, , a Chinese man called António and a Malabar servant called Christopher. Around mid-November he sent a letter saying that a man had agreed to take him to the mainland in exchange for a large sum of money. Having sent back Álvaro Ferreira, he remained alone with António. He died at Sancianmarker from a fever on the 3 December 1552 while he was waiting for a boat that would agree to take him to mainland China.

He was first buried on a beach of Shangchuan Island. In 2006, on the 500th anniversary of his birth, the Xavier Tomb Monument and Chapel on the island, in ruins after years of neglect under communist rule in China was restored with the support from the alumni of Wah Yan College, a Jesuit high school in Hong Kong. His incorrupt body was taken from the island in February 1553 and was temporarily buried in St. Paul's church in Malaccamarker on 22 March 1553. An open grave in the church now marks the place of Xavier's burial. Pereira came back from Goa, removed the corpse shortly after 15 April 1553, and moved it to his house. On 11 December 1553 Xavier's body was shipped to Goa. The body is now in the Basilica of Bom Jesusmarker in Goa, where it was placed in a glass container encased in a silver casket on 2 December 1637.

The right forearm, which Xavier used to bless and baptize his converts, was detached by Pr. Gen. Claudio Acquaviva in 1614. It has been displayed since in a silver reliquary at the main Jesuit church in Rome, Il Gesùmarker.

Another of Xavier's arm bones was brought to Macaumarker where it was kept in a silver reliquary. The relic was destined for Japanmarker but religious persecution there persuaded the church to keep it in Macau's Cathedral of St. Paulmarker. It was subsequently moved to St. Joseph′s and in 1978 to the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier on Coloane Islandmarker. More recently the relic was moved to St. Joseph's Seminary and the Sacred Art Museum.


Francis Xavier has been criticized by some for his role in initiating the Goa Inquisition, and for his iconoclasm. Francis requested the Inquisition, but he never saw it happen; it commenced eight years after his death. Yet, as noted by Voltaire, the Inquisition was often cruel, forceful and insensitive to the local culture. According to Rao, "St. Francis Xavier made it a point not only to convert the people but also destroy the idols and ancient places of worship."

In Japan, Francis publicly denounced, among other things, idolatry and practicing homosexuality. Some Japanese whom he had converted took part in destroying traditional temples and shrines.One Tokugawan law stated that "Christians were bringing disorder to Japanese society and that their followers 'contravene governmental regulations, traduce Shinto, calumniate the True Law, destroy regulations, and corrupt goodness'".


St. Francis Xavier is noteworthy for his missionary work, both as organizer and as pioneer. By his compromises in India with the Christians of St. Thomas, he developed the Jesuit missionary methods along lines that subsequently became a successful blueprint for his order to follow. His efforts left a significant impression upon the missionary history of India and, as one of the first Jesuit missionaries to the East Indies, his work is of fundamental significance to Christians in the propagation of Christianity in China and Japan. India still has numerous Jesuit missions, and many more schools. There has been less of an impact in Japan.

Pope Benedict XVI said of both Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier: "not only their history which was interwoven for many years from Paris and Rome, but a unique desire — a unique passion, it could be said — moved and sustained them through different human events: the passion to give to God-Trinity a glory always greater and to work for the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ to the peoples who had been ignored."As the foremost saint from Navarre and one of the main Jesuit saints, he is much venerated in Spain and the Hispanic countries where Francisco Javier or Javier are common male given names.The alternative spelling Xavier is also popular in Portugalmarker, Brazil, France, Belgium, and southern Italymarker. In Indiamarker, the spelling Xavier is almost always used, and the name is reasonably quite common among Christians, especially in the southern states of Tamil Nadumarker, Keralamarker, Karnatakamarker and more common in Goamarker. In Goamarker, Xavier besides being a surname, is also seen as the suffix in the names Francisco Xavier, António Xavier, João Xavier, Caetano Xavier, Domingos Xavier et cetera, which were very common till quiet recently. In Austriamarker and Bavariamarker the name is spelled as Xaver (pronounced Ksaber and often used in addition to Francis as Franz-Xaver. In English speaking countries, "Xavier" is one of the few names starting with X, and until recently was likely to follow "Francis"; in the last decade, however, "Xavier" by itself has become more popular than "Francis", and is now one of the 100 most common male baby names in the US.

Many churches all over the world have been named in honor of Xavier, often founded by Jesuits. One notable church is the Basilica of St. Francis Xaviermarker in Dyersville, Iowamarker. The is an annual pilgrimage from Pamplona to Xavier instituted in the 1940s.

The Novena of Grace is a popular devotion to Francis Xavier, typically prayed on the nine days before 3 December.

One of his relatives is John Sevier. The Sevier family name originated from the name Xavier.

Beatification and Canonization

Francis Xavier is a Catholic saint. He was beatified by Paul V on 25 October 1619 and was canonized by Gregory XV on 12 March 1622 at the same time as Ignatius Loyola. He is considered to be a patron saint of Roman Catholic missionaries in foreign lands. His feast day is 3 December.


There are many hymns written in his honour. Sam Fransisku Xaviera is a Konkani hymn, which is sung as the recessional hymn at most of the novenas held at Bom Jesus Basilicamarker, Velha Goamarker, the place where the relics of St. Francis Xavier are kept.

Educational Institutions

Numerous schools named Xavier, St. Xavier or St. Francis Xavier, most of them founded by the Jesuits, can be found in many parts of the world. Several are located in places where the saint proselytized:

  • St. Francis Xavier Universitymarker in Antigonish, Nova Scotiamarker, Canadamarker - founded in 1853 by the second bishop of Arichat and first bishop of Antigonish, Dr. Colin F. MacKinnon. It has been ranked by Maclean's Magazine as the best undergraduate school in the nation for five consecutive years, and now the best undergraduate school ranked by students.
  • St. Xavier's College - founded in 1963, is located in Mapusa, in the Northern district of the Indian state of Goa where the eponymous saint's relic lies.
  • Xavier University (commonly known as Ateneo de Cagayan) - founded by the Jesuits located in Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines; it is the largest school in Northern Mindanao and it also ranked 12th in the Philippines' Top 20 Schools list.
  • Xavier Schoolmarker - in Manilamarker, is a preparatory school for males.

In the United States of America


  • Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood, MA, USA
  • St Francis Xavier College in Florey, Canberra, Australia
  • Saint Xavier High School in Cincinnati and Xavier High Schoolmarker in Cedar Rapids, Iowamarker have prominent statues of St. Francis Xavier on their campuses.
  • Xavier High Schoolmarker - a male only Jesuit university-preparatory high school located at 30 West 16th Street, in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City.
  • in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
  • St. Francis Xavier College in Beaconsfield, Victoria, Australia
  • St. Francis Xavier's College in Tai Kok Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong
  • St. Francis Xavier High Shool in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • Xavier College, formerly known as St Francis Xavier College - a Jesuit school in Melbourne, Australia also named after Francis Xavier
  • Francis Xavier College, in Hamilton, New South Walesmarker, Australia.
  • Xavier College Llandilo, founded in 1999, is situated in western Sydney.
  • Xaverian Collegemarker in Manchestermarker, England - one of the most renowned and successful colleges in the country.
  • Saint Francis Xavier's college in a school that specialises in ICT.
  • Saint Francis Xavier primary school in Woolgoolga, NSW, Australia
  • Saint Francis Xavier primary school in Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • Saint Francis Xavier Parochial School, Nasugbumarker, Batangasmarker
  • St.Xavier high school in Eluru (West Godavari Dist of Andhra Pradesh State in India)
  • St. Xavier's Institution in Penang, Malaysia
  • St. Francis Institutionmarker in Malacca, Malaysia
  • St. Francis Xavier Junior Seminary, Wa, Ghana (West Africa)
  • St. Xavier's High School,Bathinda,Punjab(India)
  • St. Xavier's High School, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India
  • St. Francis Xavier's Girl's High School, Dhaka, Bangladesh- founded in 1912 by the Our Lady of the Missions congregation
  • St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, Metairie, Louisiana USA

  • St. Francis Xavier High School, Sumter, South Carolina, USA


  • In Rudyard Kipling's book Kim, the eponymous hero is sent to St. Xavier's School in Lucknowmarker, a fictional establishment said (in the book) to be the most prestigious school in British India.

See also


  1. Attwater (1965), p. 141.
  2. Navarro-Aragonese, called Romance at this time was also a language spoken in the surrounding area. Romance languages are the result of the changes suffered by spoken Latin through the centuries. Hispanic Romance languages were born in the North of the Peninsula (Galician, Leonese, Castilian, Navarro-Aragonese, Catalonian).
  3. Sagredo Garde, Iñaki. "Navarra. Castillos que defendieron el Reino". Pamiela, 2006. ISBN 84-7681-477-1
  4. Duignan, Peter. "Early Jesuit Missionaries: A Suggestion for Further Study." American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 60, No. 4 (August 1958). pp. 725-732. Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association. Accessed 30 Novbeber 2008 .
  5. Vlam, Grace A. H. The Portrait of Francis Xavier in Kobe. Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 42 Bd., H. 1, pp. 48-60 Berlin: Deutscher Kunstverlag GmbH Munchen, 1979. 30 Nov. 2008 jstor
  6. Ellis, Robert Richmond. “The Best Thus Far Discovered”: The Japanese in the Letters of St. Francisco Xavier. Hispanic Review, Vol. 71 No. 2 (Spring 2003), pp. 155-169 University of Pennsylvania Press. 30 Nov. 2008 jstor
  7. Xavier, Francis. The Letters and Instructions of Francis Xavier. Translated by M. Joseph Costellos, S.J. St Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1992
  8. Cappella di san Francesco Saverio, at the official website of Il Gesù.
  9. Chapel of St. Francis Xavier, at the official website of the Macau Government Tourist Office.
  10. Address of Benedict XVI to the Jesuits, 22 April 2006.
  11. The most frequent names, simple and exact for the national total and exact for the province of residence, Instituto Nacional de Estadística . Excel spreadsheet format. Javier is the 10th most popular complete name for males, Francisco Javier, the 18th. Javier is the 8th most frequent name for males, either alone or in composition.
  13. Attwater (1965), pp. 141-142.
  14. Cameron, James: "For the People", page 13. McGill-Queen's Press. 1996.


  • This article incorporates material from the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religion
  • Attwater, Donald. (1965) A Dictionary of Saints. Penguin Books, Middlesex, England. Reprint: 1981.
  • Jou, Albert. (1984) The Saint on a Mission. Anand Press, Anand, India.

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